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Graphics Cards Buying Guide

What are graphics cards?  A lot of computer owners don't really understand this component until they are told that a "driver" needs updating or that something has malfunctioned with it. It is important to understand many things about graphics cards before investing in a new one for your system, and the first thing to ask yourself is what you actually do with the graphics capabilities on your computer.

For example, are you a gamer who uses a lot of rapidly processed graphics? Maybe you jus t surf the web and don't need to worry about rapid fire processing of images and graphics? When you know that you are using a computer for a lot of graphical displays, it means that the main processor is handling the brunt of the work where the display is concerned. 

This can cause slow down, overheating, and poor visual performance. This is the essential reason for upgrading to a new graphic card. However, you cannot just pop open the computer and slide a replacement graphic card into place. In fact, there are five different things to consider: the connection type, the connectors available, the power or processing power needed, the amount of memory required, and any other features you feel you want or need.

The Factors to Consider

We'll start with the connection type, which can be one of three primary types: PCI (considered out of date), AGP (considered the most common), and PCI Express (soon to become the norm).

You need only examine the motherboard or system specifications of the computer to learn which type of connection you required.

You can take a manufacturer into consideration, but all of the cards are actually made by two manufacturers and then upgraded and sold by secondary vendors. For example nVidia and ATI are the two main makers, but then there is a long list of brand names that have different features and options added.This takes us to the actual performance of the card, and this is something that you have to stop and consider. Why? You can invest in a graphics card that will work with your system, and it can be the top of the line model, but if your computer is a few years old, operates on the slow side, and is not capable of supporting functions, it will never meet your expectations.

Additionally, when you ask the performance of the machine to improve, it also takes more energy to run the unit. Thus, you have to see if your computer can actually supply the energy needed to support an upgrade in the graphics card.

Performance can be supported by the use of a graphics card with a lot of memory. This is because it is different from the memory actually used by the computer itself. For example, your computer system may have 1 GB of RAM, and the graphics card may have 1 GB as well. The computer system does not access that second GB of RAM, but it does mean that the running of the graphics card will not tap into the system resources, causing slow down or demanding a lot more energy. (Many people choose a 256 to 512 MB graphics card memory size as this tends to work just fine).

Finally, there is the issue of the output that leads out of the drive. This has to match the monitor or display in use and will be of the VGA, DVI or even S-Video varieties. In fact, some of the best upgrades have multiple sockets to allow a range of different monitors.

Choosing an Upgrade

When you begin to search for a graphics card upgrade for your system, begin by using the criteria above, but also be aware that many vendors do not list all of these features as part of the selection criteria. For example, some of the most common ways of sorting through available models is to look at the brand, the processor, the size of the memory, and the memory type.

Don't let this last one confuse you because all of the graphics cards memories are going to begin with GDDR or DDR, followed by a number. For example, you will see GDDR3 or DDR3, and the differences are very basic. The GDDR units are designed to be used only by the graphics of the system. The DDR units are meant to be video cards instead of purely graphical cards and will have characteristics unique from the system RAMs DDR cards. The numbers at the end relate to the voltage consumed, and the lower the number the higher the power consumption.

Some of the top names in graphics cards include EVGA, MSI, Leadtek, Gigabyte, and Sapphire, though there are many other great manufacturers.

Popular Graphics Cards Brands

Popular Graphics Cards brands are Gigabyte, Asus and Sapphire.

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